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Conflict, Displacement, and pro-poor Adaptation

Rasmus Heltberg's picture

Migration is the default adaptation strategy of the poor.

Rising sea levels, more frequent flooding, and droughts could displace millions of people by the middle of the century. And if the predictions of sharply declining agricultural productivity come true, farmers will to an increasing extent abandon rural areas in search of new livelihoods.  

                                                                                         Photo: Curt Carnemark

They will move to the urban slums.

Many existing migration corridors will see increased traffic: rural to urban; interior Sahel to coastal West Africa; Pacific islands to Australia; Latin America to North America. Climate changes will also reshape migration patterns as some of today’s destination areas (e.g., low-lying coastal areas) become unfit for settlement and turn into sources of out-migration.

It is hard to believe these upheavals will take place without triggering new conflicts and worsening old ones. As new arrivals crowd into congested urban areas, unemployment, crime, and violence will be on the rise. Urban conflict prevention and conflict resolution mechanisms are needed but are in their infancy.

Rural livelihoods will also see more conflicts. These conflicts tend to go unnoticed and undocumented but can be highly lethal. They are fueled by shrinking resources depleted by population growth, environmental degradation, poverty, and over-consumption and now increasingly aggravated by climate changes.

A study from Nigeria by Anthony Nyong describes how migration in the West-African Sahel spurred by vulnerability to drought as well as by many other complex factors triggers conflict there. West Africa’s dry zone is very prone to droughts. Over the last century droughts have increased in magnitude and intensity and the variability of rainfall has gone up (although there is some uncertainty over future rainfall patterns in the Sahel).

Pastoralists from the dry Northern zones are moving south into lands occupied by sedentary farmers. Violent clashes between communities result. Livestock and farmland is destroyed; human insecurity and hunger result. The poorest are the most affected by the droughts and by the conflicts as they have the least resources to cope.

The area has some traditional institutions for managing conflicts but so far they have been unable to prevent the clashes between pastoralists and farmers from escalating. More modern mechanisms (police, courts) for settling disputes have been tried but with little success.

Some NGOs have had some success in mediating the conflicts, according to Nyong. They used consultations with the affected communities and gave support for fodder production to alleviate the scarcities of natural resources. Addressing the source of the conflict—removing the resource constraints, diversifying livelihoods, seems to be a promising way forward.

Pro-poor adaptation strategies should figure out a way to scale up such community-based conflict resolution.

Source: Anthony Nyong (2006), "Climate-Related Conflicts in West Africa". Environmental Change and Security Program, Woodrow Wilson Center.

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